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Metal Men: Lamb of God refuses to lighten up.

Rock of Lamb

Lamb of God brings its 'pure American metal' to the Shoreline

By Erik Fong

WHOEVER claimed that "metal is dead" forgot to tell the random woman pestering Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe for an autograph at a Minneapolis bar. But maybe she just didn't know that Blythe's band was metal. After all, this is the group that changed its name from Burn the Priest to its current subtle moniker so people wouldn't think they're satanic.

The road to respect for Lamb of God certainly hasn't all been drunk ladies and wooly farm animals but the band's dedication to leading a metal revolution has paid off, earning it the top slot in the first year of the Sounds of the Underground tour, a festival founded by booking agent Tim Borror, Ferret executives Paul Conroy and Carl Severson and manager Larry Mazer. "There was a bunch of bands that were too heavy for Warped Tour and had already done Ozzfest," explains Blythe, "so [we] needed something to do."

And thanks to the Sounds of the Underground, metal fans now have an alternative to the overpriced, predictable Ozzfest (and a reason for the Ozzfest organizers to keep prices reasonable and lineups fresh).

There's plenty of variety among the 20-plus bands on the bill, most of which were already friends with Lamb of God. There are precise prog-metal acts like Strapping Young Lad and Opeth, raw metalcore bands like Poison the Well and Unearth and dry-throated stoner savagery from High on Fire and Clutch. Goofy theatrical metal group GWAR stars as the sore thumb.

"If there was someone we didn't like, we definitely wouldn't have done it," says Blythe. "But all of the bands that they picked worked out great." And in true underground fashion, not only did the show promoters manage to keep admission prices under $30, but the official tour website (www.soundsoftheundergroundtour.com) lists locations where fans can get tickets without a surcharge.

Part death-metal, part progressive, Lamb of God is at the forefront of a loud rock movement along with Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall and Chimaira, which journalists have dubbed "The New Wave of American Heavy Metal." The term pays tribute to "The New Wave of British Heavy Metal," which included Diamond Head, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Mötörhead, all of whom provided inspiration for the "big four" of thrash: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer.

Picking up where its forefathers left off, Lamb of God continues breathing life into the lungs of heavy metal with its latest CD, Ashes of the Wake, which features guest appearances from thrash guitarists Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) and Alex Skolnick (Testament). Ashes of the Wake features what has become Lamb of God's trademark sound: It gallops with intensity while waving the traditional heavy-metal flag, pummeling relentlessly with Fear Factory-esque guitar rhythms and sledgehammerlike kick drum rolls. Blythe's spoken-word bits contrast his metalcore-influenced barks, all helping to create a primarily death-metal foundation, with classic thrash pillars towering high for bonus cred.

The group's bandwagon now includes music channels MTV2 and Fuse. Capitalizing on the TV exposure, the group recently released Killadelphia, a DVD featuring live shows recorded in Philly. And the wheels won't slow any time soon: after a short break in September, during which Blythe and bassist John Campbell will each get married, Lamb of God will tour Europe. "It's been long days," says Blythe, who's still adjusting to being the top dog on a large-scale tour. "We do about an hour and a half of signing every day and a lot of press. I'm doing this [interview] right now, and I gotta play in a little bit. It's kind of a pain in the ass, but it's all part of being a headliner."

Sounds of the Underground proves that metal is on the rise again, but don't count on Ozzfest getting overthrown anytime soon. With outlets for new music shrinking, Sounds of the Underground maintains a channel through which aggressive bands can shine without pressures of conformity, so no one can ever call metal dead again.

Lamb of God headlines the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on July 23. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.

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From the July 20-26, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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